How to market professional services firms [2017 edition]

Dave Yeates

A practical guide to making them want you in the room.

When it comes to professional services, it’s easy to get washed up in a sea of events, conferences and ‘business development’ – especially at this time of the year. So much so, that the conversations can start to get stale very quickly. What can we do, in 2017, to market professional services in a way that’s aligned with who we are, what our strengths are, and most importantly where the attention is.

I want you to take a moment and think about that thing you fall asleep next to every night. The one that greets you every morning and escorts you through your day. Whether it’s an alarm clock, a phone call, Evernote in a meeting or Angry Birds while you’re ‘taking a break’; your phone has fundamentally ruined your life… for the better.

It’s nearly 2017… digital disruption isn’t happening, it happened. Five years ago.

This is not for the kids anymore

I find it stunning – the amount of executive-level consultants, accountants and professionals who work in services firms and still roll their eyes at me when I talk about blogging. God forbid I mention something ‘disruptive’ like Linkedin activity, a podcast or Facebook Live.

It’s funny to think that even though we’re all so used to these behaviours today when we sit down in our office and open our calendar for the day, we’re struck with this notion that EVERYTHING is more important than social media…or even just simple digital. Even though we’ll check it each day or read the email reports and notifications from platforms like Twitter and Linkedin.

Desire drives decisions.

Working with brands means I’m regularly challenged by the notion of desire… What is it? How can you influence it? Speak to it? Grow it? What does it listen to? How does it listen?

All these questions become more and more nuanced the closer you get to the truth of your own business. What remains constant, however, is the undeniable magnetism that comes when a client makes that decision, on their own, to engage with a particular service provider. And I believe the path to that desire exists largely, if not entirely, online. Make no mistake, this is one man’s opinion… but when I look around on the train into the city. Not a single person, not even the ‘should-be-retireds’ are looking around… They’re all glued to their device; consuming whatever has their attention.

So my question to you is then simple.

In 2017, what will you do, personally, to grab your clients attention, and make them want you in the room?

Master that and your personal and professional success is likely to catapult quickly and in a very targeted direction. But it’s not a glossy brochure anymore, and the velocity of the market is unforgivingly quick… so here are the ways to think about answering those questions in your firm:

1. Bait-hook content

It’s all well-and-good to have a nice capability statement to email around, or an eBook at the ready for your customers to fill-up your email databases. Just so you can put out your monthly EDMs and hope those click-through rates don’t keep dropping. But zoom-out for a second… if we’re enticing our customers to read our content, then shouldn’t we be following up? Either with more content, or even personally?
Do the bait-hook content. Write your eBook. But put just as much work into the autoresponder campaign and sales integration and you’ll see far more returns on that investment.

2. Social content

Get on social media. Period.
The largest group of Facebook users are 25-34-year-old, with the highest traffic occurring between 1 and 3pm (zephoria.com). These are people influencing decision-makers and steering execution all over the place. We’re not talking 21-year-old graduates here.
Engagement rates on twitter are still staggering and the press love it. If you’re in the public eye, for any reason, influence your own perception using Twitter.
And please, please, please… use Linkedin like a boss. Get a profile image that’s not from great aunt Mavis’ 4th wedding last Tuesday and start engaging with content, sharing your own and contributing to people’s newsfeeds and groups. Produce content that’s meaningful and give those people you’re connected with a reason to want you next to them, next time they need your set of skills.

3. Video

From Snapchat to Facebook Live, to YouTube and every ad platform in-between. The currency of 2017 is video and you need to be seen on it. Work with your colleagues, make decisions on what you want to share and discuss and just do it. This is also a huge opportunity to give people a window into the real you… It gives people a chance to want you next to them, not just for your expertise and acumen, but for your perspective, your demeanour, your personality. It’s an investment, but it’s one where those who do will far-and-wide leave those who don’t behind.

4. Advertise like it’s 2017

Stop advertising like we’re in 1993. Your $,5000 editorial or $25,000 newspaper spread might give you something… or it might not.. it’s hard to tell when you’ve got little-to-no data to back anything up. Focus on your customers. Slice up your customer segments like a ninja and throw them the advertising like a shuriken… one at a time, right where you know it’s going to make a difference.
Used to editorials? Start buying space with influencers. Familiar with billboards? Then every social media platform is a freeway of potential customers… only here, everyone on the lane closest to your billboard, are actually people you care about. And if you’re thinking about TV – think again. Think hard about how that spend would look online, with long-form content and not limited to 15 or 30-second spots during Mash. Where you could control the narrative and give people more reasons to come back and consider what you’ve got to offer…

5. Leverage

Make your work, work for you. Content marketing is brilliant because it gives you so many levers to pull as you try and scale your content. You might find a blog turns into a conference presentation or a PowerPoint deck. Or a social video is full of quotes and amazing still images.
And leverage media, PR and influencers in your industries to help deliver your message. If you’re stuck for ideas – hire someone to help, leverage is about increasing efficiency and effectively while minimising costs. I can’t stress how effective this can be when done well.

6. Do the community thing.

Whether it’s a group on Facebook, your own social media following or an industry meetup; lean-in. Make a point of being there and meeting new people. And then just give, do the right thing by the people there and help, listen and learn. The insight you gain will be monumental and every single comment, event, discussion board or conversation is someone who might need you in the room with them at some point.

2017 will largely be about giving customers all the tools they need to do it on their own, so they can learn they actually needed the help in the first place. It’s about sharing, growing and leaning into communities to do the right thing by people and be seen as a leader – whether that’s organizationally or personally.

We’ve all got to be sharp on our message and make sure the value we’re providing steers customers into the front doors of our business. 2017 will see the successes (and failures) of exactly that.

What will you do in 2017?

What’s your story?

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